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Top Texas Judge Breaks the Law but Gets Special Treatment

Sharon Keller is the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – the state’s highest court for criminal cases. In April 2010, Keller was fined $100,000 after it was discovered that she had failed to report a total of $3.8 million in personal earnings and property – not once but twice. On August 19, 2013, following a three-year delay, the fine was reduced to $25,000. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.9].

According to a complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, in 2006 Keller neglected to report from 100 to 499 shares of stock, her interest in eight properties worth $2.4 million, $3,760 in expenses covered under the honorarium exception and $61,500 in personal income.

In 2007, Keller again failed to report the stock, the eight properties (then worth $2.8 million), two honorarium payments valued at $6,010 and nine sources of personal income worth $121,500.

Judge Keller insisted that the omissions were simply unintentional oversights. However, she acknowledged that her actions “constituted violations of her reporting obligations” required by state law.

Keller’s attorney, Joseph Nixon, said that “Judge Keller is very pleased that she was able to reach an agreement with the Ethics Commission to have the matter resolved and have the case dismissed. The settlement is fair for both sides.”

Not everyone agreed.

“We’re disappointed the fine was rolled back by 75 percent,” stated Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, which had filed the ethics complaint. “We thought the $100,000 fine sent a message to politicians like Keller that they can’t hide assets from the public and their personal financial statements need to be taken seriously.”

Judge Keller is no stranger to controversy. In 2010 she was reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for “willful or persistent misconduct” that “casts public discredit on the judiciary.”

The reprimand stemmed from an incident that occurred on September 25, 2007 when attorneys representing death row prisoner Michael W. Richard asked the court to remain open long enough to receive a last-minute appeal. Keller denied the request with a flippant retort, stating, “We close at 5 p.m.” Richard’s appeal, based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that temporarily halted other executions, was not filed in time. He was executed later that night. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.20; Aug. 2009, p.34].

Judge Keller’s reprimand was eventually dismissed by a special court of review which found that the state constitution did not allow such a reprimand as a disciplinary sanction for judicial misconduct – although the state’s legal code does.

On November 5, 2013, Texas voters approved Proposition 9, which the Dallas Morning News said could be called the “Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller Disciplinary Case Memorial Amendment.” The measure expanded the types of disciplinary sanctions that can be imposed by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to include various warnings and reprimands. Proposition 9 was approved by a margin of more than 84%.

Sources: New York Times, Houston Chronicle,,,

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